If you run a business and have a website, then you’ve probably been exposed to the term content marketing at this point, right?
Understanding what that term actually means or not is another story, but I’m guessing you have a general idea.
And if you don’t…you’re not alone. I’ve realized that very few people, even experienced marketers, grasp the basics but know very little of what a comprehensive content marketing campaign actually entails.
So, in this article, I am going to skip the generalities surrounding content marketing and jump right into the nuts and bolts of a full, effective content marketing campaign and all of its components. You will find fundamentals, ideas and strategies and even a detailed example that you can use immediately in your marketing efforts.
This is Not Content Marketing
Content marketing has been around as a viable online marketing strategy for well over a decade now and even longer as just a general marketing practice. There’s nothing new about creating content and distributing and promoting that content in different places for branding, exposure, engagement and conversion.
Even with a strong history behind it, content marketing is still misunderstood by many people.
Content marketing is not just writing and publishing blog posts.
Content marketing is also not just sharing links to your articles on your Facebook Page.
My point is this…
If you’re just creating content in one place, then you’re leaving out vital components of what makes a content marketing campaign effective.
Don’t let your hard work on that new content piece go to waste by just hoping that prospective customers find it and engage with it. Follow the detailed content marketing process and campaign example below to start giving your content a fighting chance to produce results for you.
Working Through the Content Marketing Process
Before you can even think about how content marketing can help your business you really do need to understand the core components of an effective campaign.
This isn’t magic. It’s a lot of research, hard work and persistence. If you commit to the full process, then you will see results.
The 3 Pillars of Effective Content Marketing
The core components of a successful content marketing campaign are as follows:
You must use all three of these together if you want optimal results.
The number one mistake I see with content marketing is that all resources are put into creating the content, but little to none into the distribution or promotion of that content.
With this in mind, here’s how your content marketing campaign could / should look…
Getting started is usually the hardest part. I see this a lot, and have personally experienced it, when trying to to come up with the initial idea for the content to create in the first place.
Here are some content ideas to help you get past a creative roadblock:
- Address the most frequently asked questions about your product or service
- Create useful “How to” tutorials
- Create fun lists (e.g. “Top 21 Ways to _________”)
- Publish a detailed case study about a past client
- Tell your story of how and why you started in your profession
If you’ve exhausted these ideas and are looking for a more data driven approach (always recommended whenever possible), then here are a few things to try…
Review the top performing content on your website to determine where your content efforts should be focused. Take a look at which pages your visitors are entering your site from the most, spending the most time on and converting from more than other pages. These three simple metrics alone will tell you which pages have the best search demand, which have the best content and which are the most actionable.
Your next step here would be to produce more of the same type of content, add on or improve this existing content even more or to create content that compliments what you already have.
More often than not, it makes more sense to improve and repurpose your existing content than it does to invest time and resources into creating brand new content from scratch.
Although some of the best content ideas often come from intuition and experience it’s always important to validate your idea with the proper keyword research before investing time into any type of content marketing effort.
There are so many tools at this point, most of which offer perfectly useful free versions, that it doesn’t make sense to go into any content effort without the necessary keyword search demand and keyword difficulty information at your disposal. Even if you’re overly confident that the content idea you have is going to be a winner it’s important that you know which keyword and its variations are the best targets to focus your content around. Not doing so could mean the difference between a few hundred visitors a year and tens of thousands of visitors a year or more.
Some of the easiest keyword research tools that you should get familiar with are:
TIP: A Google search results page is one of the best tools you can use for research. Do a search for a head term and then pay attention to Google’s suggestions, the bolded keywords in paid ads, the keywords in title tags and meta descriptions and the related searches at the bottom of the search results page. There are more than enough ideas for keywords in these places that will ensure you are headed in the right direction.
In addition to finding content ideas by evaluating keyword demand and trends, you can also identify great opportunities by looking at link data.
By researching which pages on your website, or which pages on a competitor’s website, are earning the most backlinks you can get an idea of where to focus your efforts. More often than not, it’s a lot easier to beef up an existing page or post that is already attracting links from other websites, than it is to start from scratch not knowing if your new content will produce the same outcome.
As with keyword research, there are a handful of powerful tools that can help you identify which pages are link magnets. Here are a few of my favorites:
Use these tools to either (1) evaluate your own content to find top performing pages by earned backlinks and/or (2) see which competing web pages carry the highest authority and why (i.e. what types of links are they attracting and from where).TIP: The above mentioned tools are fantastic for identifying what type of content gets linked to the most. They can also be used for new content topics, if that’s the direction you’re focused on, by reviewing the “Top Anchor Text” reports that these tools provide. This information will tell you which keywords or phrases linking sites are using when they mention / link to your content.
Ensuring that your content will attract visitors isn’t just about understanding search demand and search intent. It’s also about the reception it gets on social platforms and how viral it can become. Virality is not really something you can predict or project, at least not accurately yet, but you can use data to examine why and how similar content had social success.
There are some great tools you can leverage for this, such as…
The idea behind these tools is that you can pop in a topic that you’re interested in focusing on and then see the top performing content by social shares. Once you have a few examples to reference you can then dive into those content pieces to learn why they’re being shared so much, if they have any commonalities you can emulate and, most importantly, are there gaps or angles that you can focus on to create something even better.TIP: Social share counts can obviously be influenced by paid ad campaigns so never take anything as gospel. For this reason, it’s always good to compare data across social networks. If you see a high count of shares across more than just a couple networks, then that’s usually a strong signal that the content had some virality to it and didn’t just rely on paid ad campaigns to drive up share counts.
Once you’ve picked the subject matter of the content you want to create, then your next step is to decide on the type of content. To come to that decision though you must first answer two questions…
Who is my target audience with this content?
What is the purpose of this content?
Do not waste any time creating content (existing or new) until you know the answers to these questions. If you want to see a ROI from your content marketing campaign, then you must identify and target a specific persona and make your content purposeful.
If you’ve established the two items above, then your next decision centers around the format of the content that you should develop. The most common, of course, is written content (e.g. blog post or an evergreen page), but that’s not always the best place to start.
If writing is something that you’re good at and enjoy doing, then by all means start there. However, use your research to determine what is going to produce the best results for you. For example, if you found that infographics (yes, these can still work) are grabbing more traffic, links and social shares than competing articles, then you may need to consider visual content as your initial focus.
Don’t just copy what everyone else is doing though. If you can’t create something that’s significantly better than what already exists, then move on to something that you can.
If you’re competing against a high ranking infographic with thousands of links and social shares, then consider doing a better video version of that content that features some additional information.
There are so many ways you can go with content creation. And remember, there’s no silver bullet or perfect answer. You need to do as much research as you can, make sure your content is focused and then get it out there.
Even the best content pieces can fall flat when there’s no distribution strategy in place. Creating content is just one part of the process. In many cases it’s not even the most important part.
I have found the most successful content marketing campaigns to have one thing in common – wide, but strategic distribution.
How, where and how often you distribute your content will affect the outcome of your content marketing efforts. Before you even start creating content you should be thinking about the following questions:
Who is the content for?
Where do these people spend time online?
How can I get this content in front of these people in these specific places?
Who might be interested in sharing this content?
How, and how often, can I share this content?
Answering these questions before you put pen to paper will not only help you create a built-in distribution strategy, but it will also make your content far more compelling and useful.
Content Distribution Ideas
Remember, content distribution is not just hitting PUBLISH and then sending out a few social media posts. Your distribution efforts need to equal, or surpass, the time and effort it took to create your content in the first place.
Here are some different ways to kickoff, or extend, your distribution strategy beyond your usual process:
- Identify and reach out to micro-influencers in your niche to have your content shared to their audiences
- Repurpose your content (in different formats) on other channels and networks
- Create and schedule a series of social media posts (uniquely crafted for each social network) that extend beyond just the upcoming few weeks
- Use your website to prominently announce / showcase your new content
- Email your personal and professional contacts about your new content
- Put a link to your new content in your email signatures
- Share your content in relevant online discussion threads
- Answer relevant questions, naturally working in a mention of your content, on Q&A sites
- Add your content to submission sites (this is usually works best with visual content like infographics)
Seems like a lot of extra work, right?
That’s because it is.
Doing all of these things, and more, is exactly what it takes to ensure that your content gets the reach and visibility it needs to generate results for you.
Don’t bank on your content going viral. You can’t predict or produce virality, but you can stack the odds in your favor by leveraging the distribution channels mentioned above.TIP: Being a part of a distribution group is a quick, guaranteed way to get your content shared. This is a common hack that Instagram influencers use to exponentially multiply the reach of their content. Find, or create, a small group of industry influencers that help to share each member’s content. This group will take time to develop, but it could be your best distribution channel.
If you’ve done any kind of content marketing up to this point, then you’ve probably realized how much harder it has become to get your content seen…even by people that already follow you.
First page organic search engine results have become increasingly more difficult to break into, let alone top.
Evolving social network algorithms have slowed content from brands and companies down to a trickle.
And email clients, like Gmail, have upped their filtering technologies to only surface relevant, reputable email messages to its users thus making brand and marketing messages practically invisible.
These trends will only continue as platforms race to keep their users by improving the overall experience they have with their sites and apps.
What this means for you, as a brand, a company, a marketer…or just someone trying to get your message out, is this…
You have to pay to play.
So now, when it comes to marketing your content, not only do you have to make sure that your content is invaluable and that your distribution strategy is top-notch, but you also have to put an ad spend behind it to really give it legs.
If you’ve avoided any type of paid advertising up until now, thinking that it’s not right for you / too expensive / not effective, then your mindset needs to change. Paid promotion has become a necessary, and very effective, element of a successful content marketing campaign.
And no matter what you may think you know, even a small budget CAN go a long way…if you know how, where and when to use it.
Paid Promotion Options
To get you started, and to help you understand the importance of paying to promote your content, here are some options that you can try individually or in concert to extend the reach of your content:
- Bid on relevant keywords and phrases that drive traffic to your new content using Google AdWords and Bing search campaigns
- Create and strategically place compelling displays ads on sites that serve your audience using Google AdWords display campaigns
- Create and strategically place compelling video ads on YouTube videos using Google AdWords video campaigns
- Target companies and job roles that might find your content useful with ads served on LinkedIn
- Target specific personas with relevant image and video ads using Facebook’s ad platform, which covers Facebook, Instagram and Messenger
- Create and boost social posts for your content using Twitter Ads, Facebook Promoted Posts and Pinterest Promoted Pins
- Pay or sponsor influencers to recommend and promote your content to their audiences
- Pay and partner with relevant brands or companies to include mentions of your content in their upcoming email campaigns
- Pay to submit a native version of your content for other sites and publications
You’re probably asking…
What kind of paid promotion budget do I need to have to do any or all of this?
The right answer is – it depends. I won’t leave you with that unfulfilling response though.
The best answer I can give, other than it depends, is at least 20%.
In other words, if your total budget for your content marketing campaign is $5,000, then my recommendation is to allocate at least 20% of that ($1,000) to a paid advertising spend you can use across some of the options listed above.
And, more importantly, if you’re seeing great results somewhere (e.g. high conversion rates from traffic driven from YouTube video ads), then reallocate the remainder of your unspent budget to that channel.TIP: Set aside a small portion of your ad spend budget (maybe $100 or so) to use on a Google AdWords search campaign. This campaign is something you’ll want to run BEFORE you even publish your content as it can be utilized to help you determine the best title for your content. Use the data from your campaign to choose the title that got the highest click through rates across your tested ads.
A Content Marketing Campaign Example
As you can see there are a lot of pieces that make up a truly effective content marketing campaign. And as much as I wish I could tell you exactly what to do each time, there is just no better way to ensure success than to plan and implement a comprehensive approach.
Above, I gave you the skeleton of just this – a comprehensive content marketing campaign.
Now, I think it will be helpful to share with you a detailed example of what a specific content marketing campaign could look like.
Let’s first establish a backstory. Here’s the [fictitious] business that we’ll be doing content marketing for…
Business: Jane’s Paleo Treats
Location: Venice, CA
Target Audience: Males and females (age 25-45, located within 10 miles of store location) that have a college education, are currently employed, shop at Whole Foods and workout at Equinox.
Objective: Generate at least $10,000 in additional in-store revenue each month (products taste better when consumed within 0-2 days of purchase).
Total Campaign Budget: $7,500
Let’s assume we have no historical website analytics (e.g. best traffic sources, conversion rate by traffic source, etc) to work off of (not uncommon unfortunately).TIP: Target audience, objective and budget (or available resources) are bare minimum requirements that should be established upfront. Never skip this step.
So, given this limited amount of information, how would we use content marketing to help Jane’s Paleo Treats realize their revenue goal?
Step 1: Research
Since we don’t have any historical site analytics to leverage, we’ll need to move right into some initial keyword, content, link and social research.
Using Google Trends we can first get an idea of how the search demand for phrases related to “paleo desserts” in Los Angeles, CA has been trending:
Even though the data is limited we can at least get a better idea of what times of the year these searches are used, more or less.
We can see some similar data from Google’s Keyword Planner, which shows the actual number of monthly searches as well as the usage by month:
From the chart above we can see that the first 3 months of the year had higher search volume than other months. My guess…people are trying to be healthy after the holidays, but they still want something to satisfy their sweet tooth.RESOURCE: The Google Keyword Planner is an incredibly powerful tool. Although it requires having a Google AdWords account (you don’t need to advertise to use it) it is a necessity in any marketing toolkit. For an excellent resource on how to use the tool check out this guide from Backlinko.
To close out our initial research, Ahrefs and BuzzSumo are necessary tools to help our fictitious business decide what type of content to create.
Looking at these two different, but related, reports we can get an idea of what content has already grabbed market share, garnered the most engagements and what type of content (article, list, infographic, etc) tends to get the best response.
More importantly, and as we’ll see in the next step, we can start to identify opportunities to create better content than what already exists.
You don’t always need to create new content. Sometimes the better approach is to build off what’s already been proven to work.
REMINDER: We’re not trying to compete on a national scale. Getting organic search traffic or social shares from someone on the other side of the country is not going to help reach the stated goal in this particular case.
Step 2: Content Creation
With the research completed above, we now have a good idea of what type of content to create and how to create it so that it not only resonates with our audience, but it also has a fighting chance to gain visibility organically.
Not surprisingly, we can see from our research above that the content that has earned the most engagement in the form of shares and links has the following traits:
- List format
- Titles with definitive numbers in them (e.g. “49 Paleo Desserts…”)
- Over 1,500 words
Does this mean that the content we create should follow these same guidelines?
If we’re creating new content that covers a different topic or angle than the examples in our reports, then it would make sense to do at least one piece of content that meets these criteria. However, if we’re building off of this existing content, then we have some other options that could be just as, if not more, effective.
We have a good idea of what works well already….in terms of engagement (links, social shares, organic traffic, etc). What our research can’t tell us is how effective those content pieces have been in terms of generating actual sales.
Our fictitious business needs revenue. Just putting together another list of nice dessert photos is not going to push visitors to purchase. And in our case here, we want in-store sales, not online sales, so our content needs to entice readers to go to the shop and purchase products.
So what content piece are we going to lead with?
A Gift Guide.
A gift guide is actionable. It insinuates that someone needs it to make a purchasing decision. It also allows us to leverage the list approach, which we know readers find helpful and search engines love to crawl and rank.
Curated content, like our gift guide here, is relatively easy to put together, very versatile and can be just what our fictitious business needs to draw their customers into their store.
We know listicles (list based articles) can work well based off of our content research, but just creating another list probably won’t move the needle quick enough to realize our revenue goals.
So, instead of just spinning out another list it would make more sense to turn our curated selection of the best paleo treats into an interactive infographic that prospects and current customers can engage with. A beautiful visual representation of each recommended treat will be more memorable and shareable. Two traits we definitely want and need with this content.
In the process of wire-framing, designing and building out our interactive infographic we can very easily start creating our variations of the same info for repurposing, which we’ll use in the next stage for distribution.
For example, just one of the curated treats that will make into our gift guide can become any or all of the following:
- Product landing page
- Individual blog post with extra details, nutritional info and pairing suggestions
- Short video for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook
- A recipe card for Pinterest
- An extended explainer video for YouTube
- A fun video story for Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat
For maximum reach and effectiveness, ideally we would want to do the same for each mentioned treat as well as the entire guide as a whole. Even just turning our interactive infographic into a downloadable PDF can be a quick, easy way to amplify our content and get people wanting more.TIP: I won’t go into the details of creating all of this content as that would require a series of posts by themselves. I will say this though, you need a solid, experienced team to pull off these pieces effectively. If you’re not a writer, then don’t waste your time trying to write the copy. Hire a professional. The same goes for design, video creation, infographic development, etc.
Step 3: Distribution and Promotion
With our content created, based off of our research, we now need to get this thing some visibility.
If we had a larger budget to work with and more time, then this process would have actually started in the research phase. Specifically, with outreach to possible influencers and publications that might be willing to share and promote our content.
With limited resources to work with though, we need to maximize what we have to gain as much visibility in as little amount of time as possible.
Why the rush?
First, we have no historical data to optimize off of so the sooner we collect some of this data the sooner we can fine tune our content and our distribution channels.
Second, consumers take time to purchase and since we’re not trying to drive online sales our purchase cycle is going to be extended. Remember, we need to first reach our audience, then get them to visit the store with some purchase intent already in place.
Finally, we have a very good idea of when our ideal purchasing window is for these types of products (first few months of the year). Knowing this, we want to have a well-oiled marketing machine running before then so that Jane’s Paleo Treats can capitalize on those active purchasing months.
What’s the plan?
In order to build momentum behind our gift guide we need to get as many relevant eyes on it as possible.
And we don’t just want it to be a seasonal thing either. We want it to be an evergreen resource that anyone on the Paleo diet can reference at any time to satisfy their cravings for something sweet.
To check these boxes, our distribution and promotion plan would include the following…
(listed from easiest to most difficult / time consuming)
- Update all email signatures to include a link to the gift guide
- Share the guide on all social networks, with individualized content for each and a paid promotion spend where applicable (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter)
- Add posts to your Google My Business listing promoting the guide
- Send a sequence of email campaigns to personal and professional contacts
- Run a small, hyper-targeted ad campaign using Google Ads and Bing Ads
- Run small local business ad campaigns using Foursquare and Yelp with the guide giveaway as your call to action
- Find a highly relevant local group on Facebook to contribute expertise in Paleo to while naturally sharing our dessert resource
- Source the guide to local micro-influencers (think LA based food bloggers, mommy bloggers, fitness trainers, models, hometown actors and athletes, etc)
The possibilities are endless. Costs and time budgets are not though.
It’s important to focus on the strategies that stick to our end goal – get people to visit the store and purchase product. All of the options above feed right into that.
As with any marketing strategy, it’ll be important to track the analytics on these efforts on a consistent basis. If we see something that’s getting high engagement, then we want to really focus on increasing those efforts.TIP: Word of mouth and referrals will most likely be the best source of actual customers for a campaign like this. Don’t ignore the importance of tapping personal networks to build a buzz. This means more than just emailing your contacts. Text them. Call them. Meet them in person to treat them to a product sample.
Content Marketing is More Than a Blog Post
It used to be so much easier. You could put up a few posts with minimal on-page SEO work and they would eventually start to rank organically and bring consistent traffic.
Those days are long gone.
Not only have search results pages changed significantly, thus making organic positioning less valuable in some verticals, but people are using more than just Google and Facebook. Social media has changed the way we all interact with each other and businesses. As a result, our expectations have changed and our options have increased drastically.
These are opportunities though.
As long as you understand, embrace and adhere to the core components of content marketing (see below), then the sky is the limit for how big and how fast you want to grow your business from the web.
Target. Plan. Create. Distribute. Measure. Optimize. Repeat.
This is a proven formula. It’s not quick or easy (in most cases), but it works. Stick with it. Be persistent and you will see results.
And if you value your time as much as I value mine, then don’t lose weeks or months trying to pick your way through content marketing. Partner with an experienced team (I know a good one here) and leave the heavy lifting and the minutiae to someone who’s done this before.
Ready to have a team of content marketing specialists get your campaign going?